A spread is a preset pattern for laying out the tarot cards. It defines how many cards to use, where each one goes, and what each one means. A spread is a template guiding the placement of the cards so they can shed light on a given topic. It is within this template that the meanings of the cards come together so beautifully.
The most important feature of a spread is the fact that each position has a unique meaning that colors the interpretation of whatever card falls in that spot. For example, the Four of Pentacles stands for possessiveness, control, and blocked change. If this card were to fall in Position 4 of the Celtic Cross Spread (the "Past" position), you would look at how these qualities are moving out of your life. In Position 6 (the "Future"), you would instead view them as coming into your life - a quite different interpretation.
Tarot spreads can be any size or pattern. Rahdue's Wheel includes all 78 cards and creates a vast tableau of one person's life. A spread can also contain just one card. In lesson 5 I show how a one-card spread is useful for daily readings.
Most spreads contain between six and fifteen cards. This range is small enough to be manageable, but large enough to cover a topic in some depth. The pattern of a spread often forms a design that reflects its theme. For example, the Horoscope Spread is in the shape of the traditional circle that forms a person's birth chart. The twelve cards of this spread correspond to the twelve houses of astrology.
When cards are related to each other in a spread, an entirely new level of meaning is created. Combinations appear, and a story line develops with characters, plots and themes. The weaving of a story from the cards in a spread is the most exciting and creative aspect of a tarot reading. It is an art, but there are many guidelines you can follow. I discuss these in later lessons and give examples of the story-making process.
In these lessons, I refer to just the Celtic Cross Spread. I think you will be able to concentrate more on developing your intuition if you stick to just one spread at first. Once you know the cards well and feel comfortable reading them, you can expand your tarot practice by exploring other layouts. Before you continue with the lessons, read over the Celtic Cross Section. (See exercise 4.1.) We'll be using this spread throughout the course.
Exercises for Lesson 4